Who doesn’t want a whiter, brighter smile? After all, so many of your favorite daily treats (coffee, tea, red wine, even things like berries) can leave teeth with that unwanted, yellowish tint. And while you could pick up some at-home whitening devices or see your dentist for a professional bleaching, whitening toothpastes offer an easier, more cost-effective way to brighten your smile.
But do they work? The short answer is yes, though mostly to remove surface stains and not those that have penetrated deeper into the tooth. “Whitening toothpastes contain some type of abrasive ingredient that can remove the surface stains and make the teeth appear whiter than they were before,” explains celebrity cosmetic dentist Brian Kantor, D.D.S., of Lowenberg, Lituchy & Kantor in New York City. Essentially, these abrasives—often times minerals such as silica—work by scrubbing off discoloration, not unlike grains and beads in exfoliating skin scrubs buff off dead skin cells. “Some whitening toothpastes may have a bleaching component in them, such as carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide, but in order for a bleaching product to be most effective it has to remain isolated on the teeth for a period of time,” adds Kantor. (This is why strips or in-office bleaching treatments are so effective.)
One of the safest ways to “remineralize” teeth is to elevate the oral pH frequently while also providing enough safe material for teeth to absorb at the same time, says Lewis Gross, D.D.S., a holistic dentist and founder of Alka-White. He suggests looking for ingredients that will directly elevate oral pH like sodium bicarbonate, or indirectly by reducing the ability of bacteria to create sugar acids, like xylitol. Ingredients that can be safely absorbed into tooth structure without health concerns also include potassium and magnesium carbonate. “It’s important to keep in mind that the best treatment to whiten teeth is prevention and that any treatment will need to include ingredients to address plaque removal, gum inflammation, and the bacterial environment,” adds Gross. (Read more here: The Ultimate Guide to Teeth Whitening)
Along with enlisting a brightening toothpaste, Sheila Samaddar, D.D.S, a member of the American Dental Association and president of the DC Academy of General Dentistry, recommends staying on top of your oral hygiene in order to maintain those pearly whites. Brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes, floss daily, cut out smoking or the use of tobacco, limit stain-promoting foods and beverages (including the usual culprits like coffee, tea, and red wine), and pay regular visits to your dentist for checkups and cleanings, she says.
At the end of the day, as long as you’re not a super intense teeth grinder or have significantly worn down teeth (in this instance, the abrasive quality of most whitening toothpastes can be too damaging), dentists recommend whitening toothpastes for those looking for a brighter smile. So, what’s the best teeth whitening toothpaste out there? Ahead, eight expert-approved picks. Happy brushing! (Prefer to do it without paste? How to Whiten Teeth Naturally with Food)
- Sensodyne Sensitive Teeth Whitening Sensitivity Toothpaste
As anyone dealing with tooth sensitivity will tell you, bleaching can be seriously painful. Samaddar is a fan of this toothpaste, since it takes into account the sensitivity that can be caused by age or tooth wear and helps to lighten tooth color. “This product allows for brightening to occur, and has an active agent to also lightly seal off some of the tooth structure that can be tender,” she explains.
- Crest 3D White
This product claims to remove up to 80 percent of surface stains, and Kantor calls it, “an excellent surface stain remover.” He also notes that the great minty flavor leaves breath extra fresh, which is always a pro. This formula uses a unique type of fluoride to help strengthen tooth enamel.
- Opalescence Whitening Toothpaste
Reviewers comment how on how nicely this whitens their coffee- and red wine-stained smiles, and rave about the vanilla mint flavor, too. A low-abrasive option, this is also a good pick for those with sensitive teeth, and contains cavity-fighting fluoride. Plus, Samaddar likes that it contains potassium sulfate, which decreases sensitivity, and does not include sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), which has been know to cause ulcers in some people—yikes. (Related: 5 Ways Your Teeth Can Impact Your Health)
- Tom’s Of Maine Flouride-Free Antiplaque & Whitening Toothpaste
Those in search of a more natural toothpaste will appreciate this option, which contains naturally-sourced ingredients, no artificial sweeteners, and is never tested on animals. Similarly, it’s fluoride-free, though still works effectively to ward off plaque and stains. The only thing you’ll want to keep in mind is that it does contain SLS—a product to help toothpaste foam—so if you are not prone to getting mouth ulcers and like the feeling of foam, then this is a fine product, says Samaddar. (Related: The Best Natural Deodorants to Combat B.O. Sans Aluminum)
Buy It, Tom’s Of Maine Flouride-Free Antiplaque & Whitening Toothpaste, $8 for 2, amazon.com
- Colgate Optic White
One of the non-abrasive toothpastes out there, this instead uses bleaching hydrogen peroxide. Per Kantor’s point, the longer you can leave this on your teeth as you brush, the better it will work. Still, he also likes this pick because it contains an anti-cavity fluoride as well.
- Hello Care Activated Charcoal Whitening Toothpaste
Charcoal is one of the buzziest skin-care ingredients of the moment, and this charcoal-infused toothpaste boasts a clean formula and an affordable price tag. For those who are using it for whitening purposes, it does act as an abrasive to scrub off stains, but there’s no evidence that it’s safe or effective for brightening teeth. (And FYI, it can get messy, especially on a white sink.) Dr. Samaddar suggests discussing it with your dentist prior to use because it is such a powerful abrasive. (But also: Should You Brush Your Teeth with Activated Charcoal Toothpaste?)
- Linhart Teeth Whitening Gel
Ever wish you could turn your favorite toothpaste into a whitening version? This product lets you do just that. Apply a drop of the formula to your regular toothpaste every time you brush until your teeth are as white as you’d like them to be. It contains hydrogen peroxide and sodium hexametaphosphate, which in early studies seems to have an anti-cavity effect, making it a good product if you have had decay issues in the past, points out Samaddar. With all the oral health benefits, it’s no wonder Amazon shoppers consistently give it perfect five-star reviews.
- Alka-White Alkaline Oral Cleanse
Gross’ experience and research, as a holistic dentist, has shown that the safest way to remineralize teeth is to simultaneously elevate and maintain an alkaline oral environment (pH above 7) while minimizing exposure to acidic beverages and foods, staying well hydrated, and providing the raw materials that can be readily absorbed such as potassium and magnesium carbonate. While this isn’t exactly a paste, you do brush this dentist-developed product onto your teeth (after dissolving it in a glass of water), and it helps to sustain an elevated oral pH for better breath, healthier gums, and a more confident smile, at home.
Authored by: Melanie Rud